That summer, she had a student who was obsessed with the order of adjectives. A soldier in the South Vietnamese army, he had been taken prisoner when Saigon fell. He wanted to know why the order could not be altered. The sweltering city streets shook with rockets and helicopters. The city sweltering streets. On the dusty brown field of the chalkboard, she wrote: The mother took warm homemade bread from the oven. City is essential to streets as homemade is essential to bread . He copied this down, but he wanted to know if his brothers were lost before older, if he worked security at a twenty-story modern downtown bank or downtown twenty-story modern. When he first arrived, he did not know enough English to order a sandwich. He asked her to explain each part of Lovely big rectangular old red English Catholic leather Bible. Evaluation before size. Age before color. Nationality before religion. Time before length. Adding and, one could determine if two adjectives were equal. After Saigon fell, he had survived nine long years of torture. Nine and long. He knew no other way to say this.
If the liver is the source of blood: if the liver is the source
of life: if the people live with blood, visceral, on the sidewalks; the news
ticker divining Police Kill: the news ticker divining Supporters Shout;
if the people mow the bright green golf-course grass
of battlefields: Pea Ridge, Antietam: dust the sky with flags
and mow the grass, and the liver blinks toxic as a neon sign,
and the men move the pegs in the stock market
and the men water the grass; and Hate and Hate; and the men
say, Let the President; and the people say, Compassion; and the liver
reveals its dark deities on the walls of buildings;
its ancient symbols; and the liver reveals the people’s bodies
coursing strange bloods; and the men lean in closer to observe
how their pockets fill; and the liver shines like the knife
that opens it; the liver shines like a safe word on a tongue;
and someone says, It’s all consensual. And someone says, Help.